HYBRID WORK MEETINGS ARE HELL. TECH IS TRYING TO FIX THEM. - Kanebridge News
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HYBRID WORK MEETINGS ARE HELL. TECH IS TRYING TO FIX THEM.

Colleagues in the conference room. Others in the living room. Hybrid work made meetings even worse. Now Microsoft, Google, Zoom and others are trying to fix it.

By Joanna Stern
Fri, Jun 17, 2022 3:21pmGrey Clock 4 min

To the people I just had a very important meeting with:

I tried to take you all seriously. I really did. Except since I’m at home, watching you all crowded into a conference room, the effect was more like toy figures sitting around Polly Pocket’s kitchen table. I spent most of the time imagining picking you up with tweezers then zipping you into my change purse.

Please don’t call HR.

Best,

Me

Welcome to the hell of the hybrid meeting. Throw in the related side effects—office-people often ignoring the video-call people and that guy who always forgets to mute—and you’re left longing for the simpler times of toilet-paper shortages, double-masking and all-day Zoom.

The solution? Ask Elon Musk and it’s butts-in-seats for all. Employees of SpaceX and Tesla are expected to spend at least 40 hours in company offices. Yet the hybrid model has emerged as the leading choice for many companies, with 42% of people with remote-capable jobs working partly at home and 39% working entirely from home, according to a February 2022 Gallup poll.

The more likely solution? Tech features that help us adapt to this new new normal—just like they helped us adapt to the old new normal. Microsoft, Google, Zoom and others have some of their finest working to fix the greatest problem of our time: How we meet to talk about work stuff.

The solutions below won’t fix everything. But there are big developments coming, along with creative—and some free—options you can start trying with your colleagues right now.

Solution 1: BYO Laptop

The primary rule of hybrid meetings: Create equity among attendees—or, you know, don’t make your people go all Hunger Games. How to do that? With laptops, of course.

“Making laptops a required tool for all participants in a hybrid meeting helps level the playing field,” Angela Henderson, a meetings expert at Decisions, a startup that makes meeting management software, told me.

If people in the conference room turn on their laptop webcams, the people at home can see everybody’s face framed individually like during Covid times. This is better than some impersonal, drone-like conference-room view, especially when people in that room are talking. Microsoft, Google and other companies have started encouraging their employees to do this.

Of course, all those laptops on the same video call in the same room will create more ear-piercing feedback than a Kiss concert sound check. Avoid that by joining the call from your conference room’s audio/video system, then get everyone on laptops to mute their mics and kill their speaker volume before signing into the meeting.

If you use Microsoft Teams or Google Meet, you can log into the meeting from the conference room using a companion setting. (Google’s version is Companion Mode, Microsoft’s is Companion Device Experience.) Both automatically cut off your laptop’s mic and speakers while allowing you to turn on your webcam and access other virtual tools, including screen sharing, group chats and hand raising.

To make things feel more fair, Teams can line up people at home on the conference-room screen at eye level with a setting called Front Row.

Solution 2: Camera-Crazed Conference Rooms

The trouble with using your laptop’s webcam in the conference room is you don’t know where to look. At the webcam? At your colleague across the table, which gives everyone at home a nice view of your nostrils? At the wall?

“Conference rooms need to be rethought as hybrid spaces,” Greg Baribault, group program manager on Microsoft Teams, told me. And new systems combine updated conference-room camera technology with software from the most popular video-calling platforms, including Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams.

For example, Microsoft Teams works with other camera systems, such as Logitech’s Rally Bar. Instead of that drone-like view, the systems use artificial intelligence to isolate the people speaking and show them on screen as if they were individual participants in the meeting. No laptop webcam needed.

Zoom’s Smart Gallery works similarly. On supported cameras, it can create individual video feeds of each person in the room, and will even pan as people move. Yep, Google’s Meet works with similar conference-room offerings, too.

Now, if I’m the CEO, I’m thinking: “Uh uh. Nope. Have you seen this record inflation?” Yet the cost of conference-room A/V equipment is coming down.

Five years ago it could “cost you $20,000 to $50,000 and take three days” to redo a conference room with equipment, Logitech Chief Executive Bracken Darrell told me. Now it takes less than an hour to set up these newer, sub-$5,000 cameras, he said.

Solution 3: Metaverse Meetings

Or maybe, just maybe, the solution is completely virtual conference rooms. You know, we sit around virtual tables, our virtual legless avatars sipping virtual coffees.

Yes, I’ve attended metaverse meetings. I’ve put on a Meta Quest 2 headset and launched Meta’s Horizon Workrooms app, only to find my editor as an avatar resembling Milhouse from “The Simpsons,” cursing the tech. And I still have no idea what’s up with the virtual deer head on the wall!

Meeting in VR right now is a mess of uncomfortable headsets, flaky apps and real-world physical obstacles. But there is potential. Once we got the tech issues straightened out in that meeting with my editor, we had a lively and engaging conversation where it felt like I was really sitting across from him. (Too bad I’ll have to bribe him with non-virtual sushi to ever do it again.)

When hopping into a metaverse meeting is as easy as hopping into a Zoom call or Google Meet today, and my ears don’t feel like they have been crushed under the weight of a nerd helmet, then, sure, have your avatar call my avatar!

But in the real-verse, I have found the most promising solution of all: “There’s no better way to combat issues with hybrid meetings than to just not have as many of them to begin with,” Ms. Henderson said.

Precisely! So everyone step away from the laptop and ask yourselves: Could this meeting I’m about to schedule be an email? A Slack? A phone call? A text? Or a GIF of an angry Milhouse from “The Simpsons”?

 

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: June 15, 2022.



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Savvy travellers who plan their trips around dining at their destination’s most in-demand restaurants know that securing a reservation at a top Paris eatery isn’t an easy proposition on any given day.

Come the Olympics in July, when the city is flooded with tourists, one would expect the jockey sport to snag a table to be that much more intense. But that’s not necessarily shaping up to be the case. As of mid-May, Parisian insiders such as hotel managers, restaurant owners, and local luxury concierges reported that inquiries at sought-after spots were no higher than usual, foretelling a potential opportunity for visitors looking for a fine-dining experience during the games.

The time to book falls over the next few weeks given that many top spots don’t take reservations until one month before the dining date.

The Michelin-starred Jean Imbert Au Plaza Athenee and Le Relais Plaza, both at Hotel Plaza Athenee and helmed by the renowned French chef Jean Imbert, are two examples.

Francois Delahaye, the COO of the Dorchester Collection, a hospitality company that includes the Plaza Athenee and a second Paris property, Le Meurice, says that his regular guests who are visiting for the games and Parisians who frequent the restaurants know not to call too far in advance of when they want to dine.

Further, he doesn’t foresee reservations being a challenge at either venue or at Le Meurice’s two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse.

“Booking for the restaurants won’t be an issue because people are planning meals at the last minute,” Delahaye says. “Also, the people who are in Paris specifically for the Olympics are here for the games, not to eat at restaurants. They’re not the big-spending clientele that we usually get.”

Delahaye doesn’t expect the kinds of peak crowds that descend on fine dining during Fashion Week each spring and autumn, for example, when trying to land a seat at the three eateries is nearly impossible. “People are fighting to get in,” he says. “You need to book through your hotel’s concierge, have an inside source, or be a hotel or restaurant regular.”

Several Paris luxury concierge companies echoed Delahaye’s perspective

Manuel de Croutte, the founder of Exclusive & Private, says that Paris regulars probably aren’t planning a trip when the Olympics transpire—from July 26 to Aug. 11—because they want to avoid the tourist rush. “We’ve gotten some reservation requests from people who’ve heard about us but not nearly as many as we usually get when the very wealthy travellers are here,” he says.

During peak periods like the French Open or Fashion Week, de Croutte says that his job entails making bookings for travellers who don’t have any other way to get into buzzy or Michelin-starred establishments.

“You’re unlikely to get a table at a see-and-be-seen place without knowing someone,” de Croutte says. “No one picks up the phone or answers email.” He says his team has established relationships with managers and owners of many of the hot spots in Paris and often visits them in person to land tables.

Exclusive & Private’s Black Book of Paris restaurant recommendations for Olympic visitors span a broad range, from casual bistros to fine-dining.

Michelin eateries include the three-star Le Gabriel at La Reserve, the two-star Le Clarence near the Champs-Elysee, and the two-star Le Taillevent.

Spots without a Michelin star but equally notable are also on de Croutte’s list: L’ Ami Jean offers traditional and flavourful southwestern French cuisine, Allard is a brasserie from Alain Ducasse, and Laurent serves French food to a fashionable set.

“My favourite neighbourhood for restaurants is Saint Germain de Pres,” de Croutte says. “You’ll find unassuming but chic names with excellent food and a great vibe. You can book with these places directly if you’re here for the Olympics, but don’t wait until the last minute because they will get filled.”

He also cautions that some Paris eateries are asking for nonrefundable prepayments for reservations during the Olympics.

“Be sure you want to go before committing and ask about the refund policy if you are charged,” he says.

Stephanie Boutet-Fajol, the founder of Sacrebleu Paris, says her bespoke travel company charges a lump sum of about US$750 to make all the restaurant bookings for the Olympic period, though the price varies depending on the dates and the number of restaurants that a client requests. “Reservations around the closing ceremony are harder to come by because that’s when more elite travelers are coming to Paris and want the chic restaurants that are always difficult to get a table at,” she says.

Meanwhile, chefs at some Michelin-starred restaurants share that they have tables available during the Olympics and welcome travellers to their establishments.

Thibaut Spiwack, for one, behind the Michelin-starred Anona, serving modern French cuisine, and the culinary consultant for the popular Netflix series Emily in Paris , says that he is open for reservations.

“My team and I look forward to sharing a culinary experience with new clientele that I hope will remain in their memory,” he says.

Spiwack suggests that travellers check out other worthwhile restaurants where he himself dines. For terrific wine, there’s Lava, and for Italian, he likes Epoca where the pastas are “divine.” Janine is the best bistro in town, and Prima wins for a pizza fix, he says.

“You have a lot of restaurants in Paris to pick from,” Spiwack says. “You just need to determine where you want to go, and book as soon as you can.”